Ricky Martin, co-founder of HRS

Ricky Martin, co-founder of HRS

Apprentice winner turns industry innovator

Four years on from winning hit BBC TV show The Apprentice, Ricky Martin has turned the recruitment business he founded with Lord Sugar into a £5m business, as he explains to Bryce Wilcock.

Ricky Martin was considered the underdog when he won The Apprentice back in 2012 with many writing him off from the first episode.

Despite this, Ricky battled his way through a series of intense pitches and went on to win, securing £250,000 in funding as well Lord Sugar’s signature to become his business partner.

However, it could’ve panned out very differently. When Ricky was accepted to join the show, he had a tough decision to make.

Ricky had always dreamed of becoming a professional wrestler in the WWE and had been training for some years to pursue his ambitions.

His passion saw him travel the length and breadth of the UK and mainland Europe almost every weekend wrestling at shows to make a name for himself.

It wasn’t until 2011 however when he was given the opportunity to take up a trial at the WWE, the same time as he was accepted to join The Apprentice.

“I grew up on the South coast between Portsmouth and Southampton. My dad was a brick layer and my mum was an administrator, so I never came from wealth, I had a modest upbringing.

“However, I always had a dream that I wanted a little bit more. I loved the pace of life but for me it wasn’t fast enough, I needed more.

“Whereas everyone else wanted to be a footballer, I had dreams of going into the WWE as a professional wrestler.

“Really, that’s where I thought my career would go. It’s what I did when I started university, I was training to be a wrestler whilst studying to become a biochemist.

“I did that for many years. My life could’ve been very different had I not ended up on The Apprentice!

“At the same time as I was given the contract to go on The Apprentice I was offered a trial for the WWE. It was a pivotal decision I had to make.

“I went for The Apprentice as the reality is, I’m a normal guy. I’m six foot and an average size, I’m not a six foot nine 20 stone monster, genetically it just wasn’t me. I had to think realistically.

“My career in recruitment had really accelerated and I had a great customer base. I had to make a decision, do I take the risk of going on The Apprentice or the WWE? Luckily, I looked at business as being the more sustainable option.”

Despite training to be a biochemist, Ricky realised that he would never fit in a lab environment. In his own words, he was ‘too loud.’

“I studied to be a scientist but I realised the lab wasn’t for me, I was too loud and my attention to detail wasn’t fantastic.

“I was studying my finals in university and opened up the New Scientist magazine and there was a company advertising for lab staff right next to where my parents were in Portsmouth.

“I applied for it, had an interview, and thought it went well. They invited me back for a second interview and I remember thinking how weird it was that they had no labs in the building.

“It turned out in the third interview, when they offered me the job, that it wasn’t a role in a lab at all. It was a recruitment role aimed specifically at the science industry.”

Ricky fell in love with the recruitment industry and loved the fact that he was working in an industry where he was still involved in science but could utilise his communication and business skills.

He went on to work for the company for six years and worked his way up to managing his own team of 25 people. This was what inspired him to join The Apprentice.

“I’d been in recruitment for almost six years and absolutely loved the industry, I still do now, I love helping people.

“But for me, about two years before I applied for The Apprentice, I really wanted to setup my own company.

“I was a scientist recruiting scientists. I had a team of 25 but I was the only actual scientist in my team.

“I didn’t believe there was anyone else that really cared about helping scientists as much as I did so essentially I thought ‘Why don’t I setup my own company which helps other people that care about science get into science?’

“The idea was bubbling away and as I was looking for ways to get investment, I was watching the Apprentice and my fiancé at the time said ‘Why don’t you give that a try?’ It was a great opportunity to secure £250,000 and a great business partner.”

Ricky submitted his application, which included his business plan to launch his own specialist recruitment agency based on the science sector, and was successful in his application.

This is where things really got real. Ricky’s show reel in the first episode showed him as a professional wrestler and many bookies slashed the odds of him winning immediately.

But what Ricky did show, was that his determination and passion to succeed in both his sport and his profession, would outweigh everything else.

He went on to win The Apprentice and launched Hyper Recruitment Solutions (HRS) in 2012 following a £250,000 investment from Lord Sugar.

Today, the company employs over 30 permanent members of staff and is expecting to turnover between £5m and £10m in the next financial year.

HRS is also opening two new offices in the coming months and has ambitious plans to grow its presence not just at home but overseas.

“The business has grown very very well since its launch,” he said. “Essentially we’ve been profitable year-on-year since we got going.

“We now have over 30 staff, are about to open our third office and are about to introduce new markets into our areas of recruitment so it’s not just science, we’re adding engineering, commercial and soon ICT.

“If I look at the fundamentals, the turnover has gone up every year, the staff size has gone up every year, the size of our office has increased every year, our profit has increased every year, everything is going in the right direction. Is it going well? Yes. Do I want it to do even better? Absolutely.”

Speaking about the impact Lord Sugar has had on the business, Ricky added: “For me it has been fantastic. The reality is, my background has always been recruitment and I’m doing recruitment now.

“Lord Sugar had never done recruitment before. Did he turn up and show me how to recruit? No. He turned around and showed me different ways of looking at things.

“Where he is so valuable is, put his name and individual brand to one side, I’ve never met someone quite like him who can get straight to the point of what your issue is within seconds.

“I’d go in and pitch a new idea to him and he’d immediately show me the flaws in it. He is incredible at identifying problems and very good at working solutions around them.

“From that perspective, he helped me avoid so many pitfalls. Especially when we started. There are hundreds of start-up recruitment firms launched every day but what did make a difference was we had a billionaire backer, we were financially sound.

“From that perspective, in the early days, it made us feel bigger than we really were. But from an operational perspective it’s great to have ideas that are non-recruitment.

“He’s a product man and I’m a service man. To have ideas from a slightly different perspective and understand ricks slightly quicker than I could see, it’s been so helpful.”

It has now been six years since Ricky and Lord Sugar launched HRS and having already scaled huge heights in what is an incredibly niche industry, Ricky has ambitious plans for the future.

He concluded: “I think the main thing for us is to carry on excelling in what we do day-to-day. We’re hoping to open multiple offices across the UK dealing with all types of sciences.

“We also want to have a number of international locations opening over the next five years. We’re already looking at South East Asia as an option in Singapore and I think we’ll also be looking at options in mainland Europe, probably in Germany, to capitalise on the German, Swiss and Belgian markets.

“So for us, it’s to carry on doing what we do very well but to provide those services to new markets outside of our current geographical locations. I think as a consistently growing business, the opportunity for us is ‘how do we expand our service into new cultures and markets? How do we understand them better?’

“I’m not being over the top, I want to focus on where we’re really good but like any good entrepreneur I want this business to evolve and grow. This business is my baby and I want this baby to grow into an adult that really makes a difference.”